This is part of a Guide to Family Biking. You can learn more about:
A Family Bike is a bicycle that’s built to carry cargo, and usually has specific features which allow you to carry children or seats. If you’re thinking of getting a family bike, be sure to take a look at our Getting Started info first, as that includes good considerations for any bike. There are two main types of specific Family Bikes: those with the bulk of the cargo behind the rider, known as Longtail Bikes, or bikes with the load in front, known as Longjohn Bikes, Box-bikes, or Bakfiets (Basket).
Longtail Bikes look like a stretched standard bike, with the rear wheel placed further back in order to carry more cargo on the rear rack. Xtracycle is a well-known name that started by building a kit that could attach to a standard bicycle to create a longer cargo bike. Longtails ride very much like a regular bike and can carry one or two kids, either in seats or on the rear. You may also see a Midtail, which is in between a regular bike and a Longtail, but still has room on the back for cargo.
Longjohn or Box-bikes usually feature a smaller wheel placed farther out front, and often have a box which can hold a large amount up front. These bicycles have become very popular in Scandinavian countries for carrying both children and freight deliveries, and so you’ll often see them called Bakfiets. These bikes steer a bit differently with the front wheel moved out front, but allow you to easily see and talk with kids in the box, and can carry a lot with their low center of gravity.
Rain covers are often available, which many find to be a must-have option. Be careful of using a raincover in windy weather, however!
There are many other variations. Tandem Bicycles and Full-sized Tricycles are also used as family bikes, and of course, people make use of unique bikes in between. Knowing what and how you want to bike with your family will help you decide what will work best.
Electric Assist systems are now offered as a built-in option on many new family bikes, which are often heavier and can carry much more. If you know an assist is something you need, buying a complete e-assist family bike can be a great option. E-assist can also be added to many bikes, but can be tricky in some cases! Talking to others can help make sure you’re making the best choice for what you need.
Pedal-Assist or Throttle?
Pedal-Assist systems give you a boost when you pedal, and Throttle controls let you control the assist using a separate switch. They have different uses and advantages, and some e-assist systems offer both. Pedal-assist, or Pedelec systems, help multiply the effort you put in by pedaling. There are often different settings, from low to high assist, which can let you choose how much assist you’d like, and adjust for more help up hills or to get to a higher speed. A throttle can be a switch, button, or motorcycle-style twist knob. This can be helpful for getting started, or just for having help when you need it. Trying out different options will give you a good idea of what options and settings you prefer.
How Far Does It Go?
It really depends. Factors include how big your battery is, how much you’re using the assist, how much you’re carrying, and how hilly the route is. It’s a good idea to plan, and know-how far you can go with the way you ride. A heavy bike with a dead battery… and a kid can be less fun than you want. Luckily, modern electric bikes are pretty darn powerful. Some bikes will give you a mileage remaining estimate. Options include bikes with two batteries, getting a higher capacity battery, or carrying a charger with you. You can always turn down the assist and pedal more to get more mileage. And if the battery does run out, you will still have a bike!
On a Budget
Many people starting family biking need to fit a bike into a budget. This is understandable, and at the same time, we’d like to caution you about making smart choices within your budget. Just like many things, in the family biking world, when you pay more you get more. Cheaper options are available, but sometimes a lower price comes with cheaper components. With this in mind, it may be a good idea to get the best bike you can afford that does what you need in your price range.
So, what does that mean? Remember in the getting started section how we talked about being safe and comfortable? A typical question might be finding an electric bike that’s comfortable enough to get up hills. You can probably find a cheap used e-bike, or add an electric wheel conversion, but we’d like to remind you to be safe, too! Both family bikes and e-bikes are heavier, and so can go faster… so it’s a good idea to have good brakes, too! This is where paying more upfront can save you in the long run.
If you’re planning to add an assist, it would probably make sense to start with a bike with disc brakes. Bikes with hydraulic disc brakes are very safe when carrying more precious cargo in the rain, and starting out with them may be more expensive, but can be a good deal if you start out with that in mind. Upgrading brakes later could mean spending more than you’d like.
A trailer is a great way to start family biking on a budget, but do try out a dedicated family bike. Many people like how a purpose-built family bike rides. If you want to tow a trailer with an e-bike, make sure to check that the trailer attaches as some bikes (and e-bikes in particular), have constraints to what will work. If any single aspect is important, be sure to try it out first!
It’s also good to remember that tastes and needs change, and many bikes hold their value, so you can certainly change your mind. Additionally, every trip you make will save money, so if you can’t afford your dream bike, don’t worry… if you keep it up perhaps you soon will!
Many family bikes are more expensive than “regular” bikes, and even those that are affordable often reflect many extra hours of customization to be set up perfectly for your needs.
With this in mind, you’ll want to securely lock them up. Bicycle Security Advocates has a great guide to Locking Your Bike which explains this really well. While you’re there, check out their guides to register and insure your bikes, steps which could be essential if anything does happen.
Longer and larger bikes do present challenges in locking up, but you’ll find options to keep them safe. Larger locks are available, which can reach from a wider bike to secure your bike to a rack or immovable object. Folding locks and heavier chains make good choices for family bikes, and wheel locks are available standard on many family bikes.
Wheel locks, also called “cafe locks”, (as in “I’m just running into that cafe for a minute”) are good for securing a second wheel. Some wheel locks can attach to an optional chain to lock securely or to reach the other wheel. Locking both wheels, and the bike to something secure every time is recommended.
After all, something may come up, particularly with a kid in tow, so it’s best to lock up as if you may be a while.
You’ll also want to think about where you’re keeping your bike at home and while you’re out. Having a secure bike parking area is best, but it’s still best to lock up, even in a location you aren’t worried about.
E-bikes can have pricy components, so be extra-sure to secure a wheel with an electric motor, and lock the battery to your bike, or bring it and anything else with you that may detach easily.
With all this in mind, you may want to consider other security features, such as choosing a through-axle for wheels instead of a quick-release and having your lights and other accessories solidly mounted.
Alarms and GPS trackers are further options, however, they have yet to become standardized and commonplace. Nevertheless, new innovations are happening all the time.
Next, aside from riding and locking it up, how do I get this big bike around?